I just finished watching Rick Ankiel go 0-4 in this afternoon’s game against the Cubs. He struck out all four times at bat — twice looking. In the Cardinals’ last four games, Ankiel has gone 1-14. The Cards are 0-4.
It’s hard to think this doesn’t have everything to do with last week’s revelation that Ankiel used HGH. When the Daily News story broke, Ankiel was on fire, with nine home runs and 29 RBI since his minor-league call-up Aug. 9.
It’s not like Ankiel would be the first guy to tank following reports of drug use. Remember how badly Rafael Palmeiro slumped after he flunked a steroids test?
Ankiel the pitcher was always held together by a very thin thread. So it shouldn’t come as any great shock that Ankiel the hitter is choking under the heat of media scrutiny.
Of course, it’s possible that Ankiel’s slump has nothing to do with his mental state. Maybe pitchers have just figured out how to approach him.
It’s also possible Ankiel will rebound and that tomorrow he’ll go back to being a slugging sensation.
But I’m not holding my breath.
And I wonder how we’ll view Ankiel years from now.
Up until the HGH revelations, the Ankiel story was painted as a Roy Hobbes-esque tale. The moral, it seemed, was “never give up.”
But I was never comfortable with that version. There’s no doubt that what Ankiel accomplished — reinventing himself as an outfielder after a failed pitching career — was noteworthy. But this wasn’t a story about overcoming adversity. Not exactly.
This was a story about a guy with a fragile psyche who gave up on one dream — pitching in the bigs — and embraced a new one — hitting in the bigs.
But he seemingly never dealt with the underlying problem. He never overcame whatever it was that suddenly and bizarrely robbed him of his ability to throw strikes.
Now it seems that Ankiel has come unraveled yet again. And I can’t help but wonder if maybe his is less of a Roy Hobbes tale and more of a “Moonlight” Graham story. Maybe Ankiel wasn’t meant to be an All-Star slugger. Maybe he was just meant to experience one month as the best hitter in the National League.
That’s probably not the ending Ankiel was hoping for. But it’s still a pretty good story.